By Rick Halton, VP Product & Marketing, Lumeon • Article originally published at MedCityNews.com

In the consumer world, people have come to expect every experience to be fast and frictionless. These expectations are becoming increasingly evident in the healthcare industry, too – not only among patients but also among providers – and they’ll only continue to rise in importance. The organizations that can get ahead of these demands for efficiency and seamlessness are the ones that will gain an edge.

Turning online appointment scheduling into a robust transactional engine

When it comes to reducing friction for the patient and improving efficiency for the provider, one of the top areas that organizations today are focused on is the online appointment scheduling process. Providence St. Joseph Health, for instance, has rolled out an online booking platform that goes above and beyond simply booking appointments.

“It’s a full end-to-end transactional engine,” said Chief Digital Strategy Officer Sara Vaezy. “Over time, it will include digital registration, check-in, booking, payment and post-visit summaries; layered on top are the user’s ability to look for a provider, navigate its services and have the actual visit.”

This transactional engine is being used largely within Providence St. Joseph Health’s Express Care service, which is designed for low acuity, episodic types of services that can be delivered through retail clinics, virtual or at-home visits. Many of the organization’s primary care physicians (PCPs) have also started scheduling through the platform, and Vaezy expects they should have almost 100 percent of PCPs on it by the end of year.

Call-in appointment scheduling and efficient staffing structure

In addition to streamlining the online booking process, providers are also finding ways to simplify processes around more traditional call-ins for appointment booking. In some cases, such as with a major health system in Illinois, this starts with how the access center is structured.

The Director of Patient Access for one of this system’s hospitals shared how the organization’s scheduling department of 11 full-time employees was historically organized by specialty.

“We had CT, MRI and interventional radiology specialists accepting relevant calls in one pod, and a separate group of employees accepting calls for all other services in another pod,” the director said. “We did that for about 2 years and found that the high-tech specialists were spending much more time idle, while the other side was inundated, and consequently, getting higher abandon rates.

“So, we restructured the department entirely,” she continued. “We eliminated the division between ‘specialty’ and ‘other’ calls so that anyone who was available would answer the next call. We also implemented cross-training to turn all our scheduling department employees into specialists.”

Since the restructuring, the hospital has seen significant efficiency improvements – the facility now experiences an abandon rate of just four percent from the initial call.

Orchestration: A key ingredient for efficiency improvements

For just about any clinical or administrative process in healthcare, having orchestration mechanisms in place is a must to create a smooth and efficient experience for everyone involved.

Being such a broad concept, it’s important to understand which areas orchestration can be applied and focused to generate the greatest efficiencies. Vaezy explained three ways that “orchestration” can be unpacked:

“For one, it can connect the patient and provider experience through the EHR, so that the patient information captured during their visit can be used to manage their care.

“Orchestration can also be applied to provider staffing, where a unified provider pool that can be flexibly deployed maximizes the utilization of that providers’ time across care modalities.

“[It] can be applied to primary care, where tools are provided to the caregiver to help simplify and manage their schedule while enabling them to maintain their autonomy and generally opening up more scheduling options to patients.”

Meeting the demands of today’s patients goes well beyond clinical outcomes. More and more, it requires providers to innovate and create experiences that are completely seamless – emulating the everyday experiences consumers have. It’s also important to remember that the consumerization of healthcare doesn’t just serve patients – it also has the potential to add major efficiency improvements to the provider experience as well.